Edited and Proofread by KitKat
The doctor turned pale as his eyes lingered on the string of Bodhi beads. He then turned away and replicated the apothecary worker’s words denying their involvement.
“You say that it has nothing to do with you but the poison couldn’t have come from nowhere,” An Chang Qing took a sip of tea before slamming the teacup on the table with a loud thud, “Why don’t I interrogate you both separately? From the beginning of Lady Yu’s diagnosis to the source of the medicine, it’s best if what you two said matches but if there is any discrepancy between your words…”
An Chang Qing cast them a chilling stare, “I can always pull out the truth in the Wang Manor’s torture chamber.”
The two men kneeling on the ground slammed their heads onto the ground and begged, “We have told you everything! Everything we said is the truth!”
Madame Li raised her eyes to look at them. She lowered her sight and moved the Bodhi beads at a slightly faster pace.
“Wangfei, this is the An Manor, not the Dali Court,” An Zhi Ke who had been silent finally spoke up. With a displeased look, he said, “They might not be the culprits, is there a need to scare them with torture?”
An Chang Qing did not back down, “If father thinks that I’m being unreasonable then bringing this matter to the Dali Court is also a viable option.”
“You!” An Zhi Ke choked. He naturally would not want to involve the Dali Court into this. The An family would become a laughingstock… And if this crime involved someone in the family, it could tarnish their reputation.
“Do as you want,” An Zhi Ke flung his sleeve disgruntledly.
“Tie Hu, take them to the side rooms.”
Tie Hu received the order and escorted the doctor into the next room, leaving the apothecary worker in the hall.
The apothecary worker was kneeling in the center of the hall with An Chang Qing on one side and the rest of the An family on the opposite. He was drenched in cold sweat as over a dozen pairs of eyes focused on him. Whatever Hu Shifei asked, he would answer to the tiniest detail.
When the inquiries ended, half an hour had passed and the paper in Hu Shifei’s hand was fully written. He folded and passed it to An Chang Qing and prepared for the next round of interrogation.
The doctor’s surname was Wang and he was already in his early fifties. After spending half an hour alone in the next room, his legs had turned soft and he had to be supported by Tie Hu.
Hu Shifei began his interrogation once again. Although his tone was mild, with his experience working with the military for a long time, his questions were critical and aimed straight at the heart of the matter, leaving the doctor little room to recover. After answering a few questions, Dr. Wang was covered in sweat. In his panic, he erratically glanced at Madame Li several times, only to be returned with a bone-chilling stare on her end.
Madame Li watched the proceeding with cold eyes as her sharp nails clawed over the Bodhi beads, leaving a clear scratch mark on them.
Hu Shifei continued to hound Dr. Wang with questions, one more difficult to answer than the other. However, Dr. Wang’s mind at this point was only focused on the familiar string of Bodhi beads – the same one his aged mother carried with her all the time.
With sweat dripping all over his forehead, he raised his head and looked around in a trance. Gathering all his strength, he abruptly stood up and rammed head-on into a pillar.
In an instant, blood was gushing out of him, turning the hall chaotic.
Dr. Wang fell to the ground. His body twitched a few times before becoming motionless. Hu Shifei hurriedly went to check his breath. He turned back to look at An Chang Qing and shook his head, “He’s dead.”
The women were all shocked and moved away from the body.
The old matriarch pinched her forehead and chanted a few Buddhist prayers. She then told the servants to carry the body away.
An Zhi Ke helped her walk while turning to An Chang Qing and said with discontent, “The culprit is dead, is Wangfei satisfied now?”
An Chang Qing did not expect that the doctor would choose to kill himself.
His original plan was to force the doctor into admitting his crime. The poison in Lady Yu’s medicine today was planted by Zhao Shi at An Chang Qing’s command. This was to provide substantial evidence and take them by surprise.
If they had gone with the angle that the qian chong jin could cause poisoning and started accusing the doctor, he could simply feign ignorance and blame his inadequate medical skills. And as the mastermind, Madame Li would be void of suspicion because, how could she, a simple housewife, know what a doctor didn’t?
After much contemplation, An Chang Qing chose this plan out of desperation to pin the doctor and Madame Li for the crime. As long as the doctor confessed to the poisoning, even without revealing the mastermind, An Chang Qing could still force An Zhi Ke to let him take his mother and sister away. As for Madame Li, he would then plant a little thorn to deal with her.
What he did not expect was that Madame Li was many times more tricky than he thought. To think she could force the doctor to commit suicide on the spot…
He looked at the frightened Madame Li who was being cared for by a servant girl. An Chang Qing said, “He is a doctor with no qualms against Lady Yu, why would he poison her? I’m afraid there is a mastermind behind this. Now that he has committed suicide, the only lead is gone. Instead of living in suspicion, let’s just request the Dali Court to investigate this.”
“You dare!” An Zhi Ke flared with anger, “The culprit is already dead and Lady Yu is also fine. If this matter spreads, the An family will be a joke to everyone in Yejing!”
An Chang Qing’s expression turned stoic as he discarded his politeness, “What becomes of the An family has nothing to do with me. My only concern is that as long as the main culprit is not found, Lady Yu’s life will continue to be in danger!”
“Nothing is more important than the century-old namesake left by the ancestors!” An Zhi Ke snapped.
“Then Minister, you can keep your reputation,” An Chang Qing said in a tone filled with sarcasm, “I will have Lady Yu recuperate elsewhere. And Yu’er will go with her.”
An Zhi Ke looked at An Chang Qing with a slight sense of suspicion, as though he could not recognize him. After a long pause, he finally said the word ‘good’ three times.
“Well, it seems you’ve been aiming for this since the beginning. I would’ve never known that you could be this conniving.”
“There is much that Minister An does not know,” An Chang Qing locked eyes with him and smiled, “So, what will it be?”
An Zhi Ke flung his sleeve, “Lady Yu can go with you to recuperate but Yu’er cannot. She will be married off next Spring and has to stay at home. It’s simply unorthodox for her to go with Lady Yu.”
An Chang Qing was sure to disagree with this reasoning. Marriage? That had yet to be decided. And leaving his sister in this cannibalistic place was out of the question.
“The wedding is still far off. Yu’er has been living with Lady Yu all this time, now that the real murderer has yet to be caught if something were to happen to her when she is alone…” An Chang Qing lowered his eyes and said slowly, “I still think we should invite the officers from Dali Court to investigate this. This is the only way to ease my worries.”
This was the very first time An Zhi Ke had been forced into a dead-end. And the one who had ensnared him into this contrived situation was the disregarded son of a concubine. He stared grudgingly at An Chang Qing as though he was not his son but an enemy. In a heavy tone, he declared, “So be it! Go ahead and take her!”
“Thank you Minister,” An Chang Qing finally smiled sincerely, “There’s much to be done back in the Wang Manor, I’ll be taking my leave with Lady Yu and Yu’er then.”
After which, he nodded to the crowd and left the hall together with Lady Yu and An Xian Yu under the escort of Tie Hu and Zhao Shi.
When he got to the gate, An Chang Qing caught sight of a particular person. He stopped and greeted, “Second Aunt.”
Madame Sun had tidied up her looks and her temperament. She was not present in the hall previously but it was likely she knew what had transpired.
An Chang Qing was just thinking about how to use this ‘thorne’ when she had delivered herself to him. He grinned and approached her, conversing in a low voice, “De Ren Hall is under the management of Madame Li’s family, do you know that?”
Madame Sun stared hard at him, “I do, what of it? Don’t even think of using me!”
An Chang Qing laughed, “It’s not so much as using but we have the same enemy. Lady Yu was poisoned for no reason and cousin has also died without an apparent cause… We can’t just let the murderer get away with it…”
At this point, Madame Sun remained silent.
“Dr. Wang’s family lives in Tong Yun Lane,” An Chang Qing added before turning to leave.
After they had exited the main gate of the An Manor, An Chang Qing heaved a long sigh. He then turned to his still-in-shock mother and sister and said with a smile, “You both no longer have to suffer any more persecution from this ghastly place. I will support you from now on.”
Lady Yu looked at him and her eyes turned red. She touched his cheek and said, “It’s been hard on you.”
Without her realizing it, her weak and innocent son had grown into a big tree that could shelter them from the storm.
“Not at all,” An Chang Qing blinked and tried to suppress the sourness in his nose. He smiled and said, “Let’s go. We’ll return to the Wang Manor for now. Mother, sister, you will live with me until I find a suitable place for you to stay.”
Although An Chang Qing would love to live with his mother and sister, letting them stay too long in the Wang Manor would invite unwanted gossip. And then there was also the matter regarding the Wu family.
Lady Yu and An Xian Yu boarded the sedan and An Chang Qing was about to enter with them when he realized that the small carriage he brought today would be too crowded for three people. Just as An Chang Qing was contemplating if he should ride with Hu Shifei, a deep voice called him from behind, “Nuo Nuo?”
An Chang Qing’s ears turned red. He turned back and scowled, “You’re not allowed to call me by this name!”
This was a subconscious reaction and when An Chang Qing realized it, he saw that everyone around him had their eyes downcast, staring at their feet awkwardly. He then saw Xiao Zhige with his usual expression reaching out his hand to him, “I’ve come to pick you up. Let’s go.”
An Chang Qing’s heart softened. His anger disappeared in a flash, leaving him with only embarrassment.
An Chang Qing looked back at the carriage before gritting his teeth and took the man’s hand.
Xiao Zhige held onto him and helped him up the horse, allowing An Chang Qing to sit in front of him. Today, Xiao Zhige was riding a stout red mare which was much stronger and larger than his other horses, enough to accommodate two people.
An Chang Qing had his back right against Xiao Zhige’s chest. Feeling the sneaking glances from his surroundings, An Chang Qing clutched the horse’s mane and urged, “Let’s hurry back.”
“En.” Xiao Zhige wrapped his arms over An Chang Qing’s waist and pulled the reins. Feeling the gestures, the red horse neighed and began its throttle back to the manor.
The group of onlookers including Tie Hu and Zhao Shi were dumbfounded. They stood and stared for a long time before Hu Shifei had to slam on the sedan and urged, “What are you standing there for? Let’s go!”
The two snapped out of their daze and quickly maneuvered the horse carriage, following behind An Chang Qing and Xiao Zhige.